Gordon leads pack ready for impact
Hopeful ... Shark Michael Gordon wil be hoping for some more game-time. Photo: Brendan Esposito
1. Michael Gordon (Sharks)
Gordon has been dogged by injury during the past two seasons, restricting him to just 16 games for the Panthers since their 2010 finals campaign. Now with the Sharks, he will make the permanent move to fullback to provide coach Shane Flanagan with the strike power they lacked on occasions last season. He'll challenge Todd Carney for the goal-kicking duties and is likely to come into contention for a recall to the NSW Origin team, which he last played for in 2010.
2. Gerard Beale (Dragons)
Made the switch ... Gerard Beale left the Broncos for the Dragons. Photo: Greg Totman
Had limited opportunities to wear the No.1 at the Broncos with Josh Hoffman at the club but will make the fullback spot his own at St George Illawarra. The Dragons struggled without a ball-playing fullback when Darius Boyd left at the end of 2011, but Beale will go a long way to solving their attacking woes. In 2011, with Hoffman out injured, Beale was one of Brisbane's best at the back, which led to him making his international debut for the Kiwis later that year.
3. Josh McGuire (Broncos)
To compare McGuire to Shane Webcke and Petero Civoniceva would be unfair, but the 22-year-old is definitely in a similar mould. Debuted for the Broncos as a 19-year-old in 2009 and is now considered the future of the club. He forced his way ahead of Civoniceva into the starting line-up last year and will get even more minutes following the veteran's retirement. McGuire, who played in 24 of the Broncos' 25 games last year, has a big engine and is on the verge of being elevated into the Queensland Origin side to replace Civoniceva.
4. Ben Te'o (Rabbitohs)
South Sydney coach Michael Maguire has big plans for Te'o, who has always been considered a good impact player but hasn't had the opportunity to develop into an 80-minute footballer. The former Bronco has joined one of the strongest packs in the competition and is eyeing a regular spot in the back row. Made his Origin debut for Queensland in game three last year and will be a regular member of the Maroons pack for the next five years.
5. Josh Papalii (Raiders)
Not many players can take on NSW captain Paul Gallen and come out on top, but Papalii's semi-final performance at Canberra Stadium last year captured the attention of the rugby league world. The back-rower, who has been likened to Canberra and Kiwi great Ruben Wiki, is one of the most explosive ball-runners in the game, but has the ball-playing skills to compliment his power. Barring injury, the 20-year-old will make his Test debut for New Zealand this season.
6. Feleti Mateo (Warriors)
With his size and skills, Mateo has underachieved so far in his career. On his day the Warriors back-rower is the most devastating forward in the game, but he hasn't realised his full potential as yet. Has been on the verge of NSW selection for a couple of seasons, but hasn't been able to make the step up. He's heading into the twilight of his career, but this year could be the season he explodes. He was part of Laurie Daley's 22-man Emerging Blues squad.
7. Darius Boyd (Knights)
The Newcastle fullback was one of the biggest disappointments of last season, but he's poised to return to the form that saw him win the Clive Churchill Medal for the Dragons in 2010. Boyd struggled outside a back line and forward pack that battled for consistency in their first season under coach Wayne Bennett. But when the Knights discovered their mojo at the end of the season, Boyd came into his own. Expect him to be one of the Knights' best as they begin their resurgence.
8. Josh Jackson (Bulldogs)
Canterbury coach Des Hasler has a big opinion of Jackson, who exceeded expectations in his debut season for the Bulldogs last year. A workhorse with the skills and size to develop into one of the NRL's most lethal edge runners. The 22-year-old was rewarded with an invitation to the NSW Emerging Blues camp in Sydney a fortnight ago.
9. Justin Horo (Sea Eagles)
Fell out of favour at Parramatta last year and was forced to spend most of the season playing for Wentworthville in the NSW Cup. Has been offered a lifeline by Geoff Toovey, who may well get the best out of the Kiwi-born back-rower. The departures of Darcy Lussick and Daniel Harrison have paved the way for the 26-year-old to cement a regular spot at Manly.
10. Mitch Rein (Dragons)
The St George Illawarra hooker was the shining light in a disappointing season for the red and whites. His defence was first class and he's fast developing his running game to rival the competition's top No.9s. Two seasons ago he was considered the club's third-choice hooker behind Nathan Fien and Cameron King, but is now the Dragons' first-choice dummy half and one of NSW's most promising rakes.